Oh, olio

Change is pretty much the only constant in life, unless of course you travel often by Rickshaw in Mumbai, in which you must become Buddhist and realize that change comes from within…your wallet. For Olio though, which is Novotel Mumbai’s flagship Italian restaurant, change has come from beyond its doors as they have roped in Chef Kailash to helm their kitchen and shake things up a bit.

A few chosen food lovers (such as yours truly) were roped in to sample their new offerings as part of a degustation menu, all with a view to garnering feedback after feeding us what the kitchen feels would be loved by prospective customers. What was meant to be a tasting session turned into an impromptu karaoke one and frankly I don’t know when one segued into the other.

The menu on offer looked very promising and full of ideas, although on the day some of them didn’t translate as well as they sounded on paper, so to speak. It’s like Formula 1 testing sessions that are less about getting things perfect from the get-go as much as it is about understanding whether everything works as intended to. After all, ideas are great, but then the promise it holds needs execution too.

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A pair of soups are trotted out for us to sample, and of the two soups I tried I preferred the fresh, honest flavours of the minestrone soup. The cream of Asparagus soup drizzled with truffle oil, seafood and a sprig of asparagus thrown in for good measure was delicate and luxurious, but I wasn’t a fan of the asparagus crunch, not to mention the seafood had sunk to the bottom of the green sea. If you told me I’d go green when it comes to picking one of these soups, I wouldn’t have thought that you meant I’d opt for a vegetarian option over its meatier brethren. Go figure.

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Up next for grabs were a pair of salads, and generally I care as much for leafy appetisers as I do for Big Boss (which is to say it is just just a speck of cosmic dust in my collective universe). First up was some Buffalo Mozzarella lumped on a wedge of Tomato and sparked into life by a smattering of Fresh Basil. This was fairly regulation fare with the nutty savouriness of the condiments complemented by the burst of freshness from the juicy Tomato. The classical nature of this ensured it’ll offend no one even if it doesn’t blow your socks off.

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No sirreebob, that was the job of the Pickled Watermelon and Arugula. Think of your typical image of watermelon, all sweetness, honeydew and sunshine, and throw that perception out the window. This is watermelon in its phase of teenage angst, all rebellious and snarky. Pickled in vinegar and combined with the nuttiness of the goat cheese and bitterness of arugula, this dish was a surprise winner even to my salad averse palate. What can I say, I like big melons and I cannot lie.

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Moving on from Rabbit food, we were served enough tapas sized platters to feed a small army. Of these, the spanakopita stood out to me most. The delicate phyllo pastry stuffed with ricotta and spinach was expertly done, even if I wish the ricotta was moister than it was. You can’t win them all though.

A special mention goes to the Arancini balls and pickled mushrooms. The former were cheesy, batter fried risotto balls that would serve as great finger food and the pickled mushrooms had a lovely, zesty vibe to it thanks to the combination of garlic, sumac and vinegar, among other ingredients.

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The food just kept pouring in like there was no tomorrow, and soon a troika of non veg antipasti was laid out before us. Of these, I enjoyed the Crumb Fried Bombay Duck the most, although it has to be said it wasn’t deep fried to a crisp. It was shorn of oiliness though, which I appreciated. It’s a bit strange seeing a Bombay Duck appear on an Italian menu though. You could even say it was like a duck out water. *ba dum tssh*

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The Prawns Mojo (served cold in a pool of vinegar, mustard and olive oil) showed promise but is perhaps too continental in its leanings and a simpler, warmer prawn dish served with a leafy salad and cherry tomatoes plus a sauce of similar flavor profile would work better. The chicken with mustard done 3 ways was alright, but it’s hard for chicken to get a thumbs up for me since it’s right at the bottom of the protein pyramid in my eyes.

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Perhaps most surprising were the pair of pizzas I gobbled, one of which was the Olio special (topped with boiled eggs, chicken and chilli flakes) while the other was the Gamberoni (with pesto marinated prawns and olives) and while they were both off-beat enough for me, I liked them both enough to want to return at some point for it. in particular, I appreciated the fact that the crust struck a perfectly fluffy, yet crispy balance as opposed to most crusts these days in Mumbai that are thinner than an anorexic supermodel. Olio 1, Most other pizza joints 0.

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After the pizzas that flew sky high, the pastas and risotto mostly disappointed. The risotto al funghi was drier than British wit and lumpy to boot, which was a shame. The ravioli and Lasagna didn’t do any better for me, with the former lacking enough sauciness and filling and the lasagna served to us a deconstructed one. I get the sense that a properly layered lasagna would have fared well though.

Was it all bad then? Not quite. The seafood canneloni, which was loaded with half the critters from the Arabian Sea, was absolutely wonderful and it’s no wonder I loved it since I seafood and I eat it. On a slightly more serious note, methinks Olio is onto a winner with seafood since it was treated with lots of love with the pizza too. There’s some seriously fishy magic at work there.

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I didn’t try much of the mains, since I was stuffed fuller than a piñata at a kiddie party, but I did have space for some desserts. Of the three, the coffee gelato was by far the best. Served on a bed of cookie crumble soil, it walked the tightrope of sweetness and bitterness perfectly and pleased everyone, bar none. The Panna cotta was nice without having the perfect wobble and the berry compote on the side added a nice dose of tartness, but it wasn’t everything I thought it could be.

On a parting note, I have to state that the dessert wine served by Reveilo, a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, was a remarkably good companion to the food. Sweet to the last drop, it was a decidedly heady end to the meal.

In all, with the potentially extensive reworking of the at times well-thought out menu, Olio will surely have something for everyone. But like a cook in progress, there is still some way to go before this is the finished product. All the ingredients are there though, and I have no doubt Olio will string together something that puts a smile on your face, especially if they remain fishy and stick with seafood.

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